12 August, 1994
“This isn’t love and peace,” screamed Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as he ducked a flying mud-pie. “It’s fucking anarchy!” Simultaneously, bassist Mike Dirnt lay flat on the mire-covered stage, still playing as though his life depended upon it.
Such was Woodstock ‘94, a great blast of a festival that took place at Winston Farm in Saugerties, NY. What had started out as regular Green Day set had fallen foul of a sodden, sludge-soaked audience made belligerent by the elements, and determined to take out their frustrations on whoever appeared next onstage. Green Day managed 20 minutes under the barrage before filth-coated figures leapt from the crowd to wrestle onstage with security guards. One such bouncer mistook Dirnt for a stage crasher and, attempting to take him down, damaged the plucky bassist’s front teeth.
Indeed, trouble had been brewing from the off. Organisers claimed to have sold around 190,000 tickets for this 25th anniversary marking of the original countercultural mega-fest, but the site’s mainly wire fences were easily breached and the crowd swelled to an estimated 350,000. Add the rain that transformed the three-day event into Mudstock, and it was little wonder that the thousand-odd attendants of the Peace Patrol felt a little overwhelmed. There were other teething problems, too. Headlining over Orbital, Deee-Lite and more at Friday’s gurntastic Ravestock area was Aphex Twin, who, upon learning that he was required to sign away the rights to his live performance, rendering said contract null by signing using a made-up name. Cue curtailed Aphex live set…
Luckily, the bash still boasted some of the biggest musical guns money could buy in that year of Brazilian World Cup victory, Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe and Michael Jackson marrying Lisa Marie Presley. Crosby, Stills and Nash (with a guesting John Sebastian), Nine Inch Nails (whose Happiness Is Slavery was a punishing highpoint), Metallica and the Rollins Band headed a stellar but dampened Saturday programme that had Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler recalling, “it poured like a cow pissing on a flat rock.” The Bad Boys From Boston were meant to be on at midnight: instead, they tumbled onstage at 1.15 and played till three.
“It was so much flesh, humans as far as you could see…”
Looking back on his appearance earlier in the day, Henry Rollins commented: “When the wind blew towards the stage all you smelled was the sweat of over 300,000 people. It was so much flesh, humans as far as you could see. Time seemed to hang suspended while we played… we had a blast!”
Though Johnny Cash was invited to play, his non-main stage slot meant he declined. Instead, on Sunday the main North stage saw acts including the Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros and Country Joe McDonald (who dedicated his set to “departed souls hovering over the site” including Janis Joplin and original Woodstock mastermind Max Yasgur) joined by another legend. “We waited twenty-five to hear this,” said stage announcer, radio jock Alan ‘Brother Wease’ Levin. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Bob Dylan!”
Dylan, who’d had missed out on the original Woodstock shindig, was lauded by The New York Times in fulsome terms. “Except for only two recent songs, Dylan and his four-man band played a set they could have performed at the original festival: one masterpiece after another from the 1960's. It wasn't 25 years too late.” Indeed, a blistering Highway 61 eventually ended up on A&M’s Woodstock 94 album. And nobody threw mud.
Even so, considerable distress was to follow after Peter Gabriel closed the show and the drenched and the drowned attempted to make their way back to civilisation. Some of the buses reportedly refused to stop in certain areas because desperate people were jumping on the hoods of the vehicles in order to vacate the site. One reporter claimed: “There are thousands of people waiting in the light rain for the shuttle. It’s like trying to catch the last flight out of Saigon.”
Even so, co-organiser Michael Lang observed: “‘94 was wonderful, it had its own problems, its own sort of mechanics… but everybody had a great time.” And Green Day, who’d skipped the Lollapalooza tour to play the date, certainly benefited. Their debut album Dookie, which had taken four months to get to number 19 in the US charts, took off in the wake of their grimy triumph and reached number 4, ensuring the band headline status for years to come. The only person who felt embarrassed was Billie Joe Armstrong’s mum Ollie, who complained bitterly about her son’s onstage behaviour, his use of obscenities and the moment when he pulled down his pants. “You father would have ashamed of you,” she wrote in a letter. The thoughts of viewers at home – the whole thing was on cable pay-per-view for $50 – were unknown.